James Brown was known for a lot of things, but sanity wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t just the Godfather of Soul, a Founding Funkster and the Preeminent Progenitor of Hip-Hop. He was also batshit crazy.
It was his shaky grasp on reality that landed Brown in the back of a police car on no fewer than a dozen occasions. And when you review his rap sheet, which is permeated by the disturbingly recurrent themes of gunplay and domestic violence, most of it isn’t very funny. But when you combined James Brown with hard drugs…well, things sometimes got a little funny. Look, even James is laughing:
In the late ‘80s, Brown’s status as a legend was already assured but his sizeable reputation as a nutbar was about to take a huge leap forward. The interview here, which followed an arrest on weapons and drug charges in May of 1988, gives you a pretty good compass on Brown’s mental state at the time.
And just…wow. Just wow, that’s all.
Still, the interview would pale in comparison to what came next.
On September 24th, 1988, a group of insurance salesmen gathered for a seminar in an Augusta, Georgia conference room adjoining James Brown’s personal office. Brown was at home ingesting a highly hallucinogenic breakfast of cocaine and PCPs (which, for some reason, I want to call Crunchberry).
In Brown’s absence, a few sloppy insurance agents made a poor risk calculation and decided to use Mr. Dynamite’s personal toilet.
Upon arriving for a day’s work (which we presume largely involved speaking loudly about himself in the third person and groping his employees), Brown conducted a preliminary forensic sweep of the area and decided that his crapier had indeed been violated.
Consequently, a raving and disheveled James Brown, fully enjoying the effects of his breakfast, burst into the seminar brandishing a shotgun and demanding satisfaction from the parties responsible for the offending dookie. Needless to say, nobody stepped forward. Somebody did, however, dial 911.
James Brown departed in his pickup truck, still in a huff over the funking of his throne. Consequently, as he drove across the state line into South Carolina, Brown was confronted by six police cars. According to Brown’s report of the incident (the reliability of which is a matter of some debate) officers immediately opened fire on his truck, peppering the vehicle with 23 bullet holes and blowing out its tires.
Fearing for his life, Brown sped away on the hobbled vehicle, leading officers on a 30-minute high speed chase that crossed back over the Georgia line, probably did a fair amount of damage to his rims and only ended when Brown careened into a ditch.
Never one to go down without a fight, the Hardest Working Man In Showbiz could be subdued by no fewer than 20 officers.
Brown was sentenced to 6 years in prison, 2 of which he served in South Carolina’s State Park Correctional Facility before his release on February 27th, 1991.
The heightened visibility created by Brown’s outlandish behavior and cavalier attitude did not hurt his career. According to some guy, Brown was turning $30K a performance before his incarceration and commanding $100-$150K a show upon release.
As to whether the hard time reformed James Brown…it did not. Between his release from prison and his death in 2006, he would be arrested at least six more times.
There’s probably a moral to this story, like stay off of drugs or don’t drive angry, but to me, the big lesson here is don’t crap in James Brown’s toilet.